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Consciousness and the Self
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  • Edited by JeeLoo Liu, California State University, Fullerton, John Perry, Stanford University, California
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'I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.' These famous words of David Hume, on his inability to perceive the self, set the stage for JeeLoo Liu and John Perry's collection of essays on self-awareness and self-knowledge. This volume connects recent scientific studies on consciousness with the traditional issues about the self explored by Descartes, Locke and Hume. Experts in the field offer contrasting perspectives on matters such as the relation between consciousness and self-awareness, the notion of personhood and the epistemic access to one's own thoughts, desires or attitudes. The volume will be of interest to philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists and others working on the central topics of consciousness and the self.


"...The main important point of this book is the capacity of the editors to put together different accounts about self-awareness that perfectly mix traditional and contemporary points of view about conscious states and the self. The diversity of thesis and conclusions included between the different chapters permits to take a panoramic look to the actual debate in philosophy of consciousness and self-awareness."
--Juan J. Colomina, PhD, The University of Texas at Austin and LEMA Research Group (University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain), Metapsychology Online Reviews

"...I'll lay my cards on the table right away and say that this is a good book. It's not too often that I read a collection such as this cover to cover, and I found doing so with this volume very rewarding. The book contains plenty of chewy philosophical argumentation and the, admittedly only occasional, references between papers were illuminating. There's a lot to learn, and to engage with, here.... It's a good book, with lots of careful papers and serious arguments. Anybody with even a passing interest in self-consciousness, consciousness or the self, cannot fail to learn something from its pages."
--Joel Smith, University of Manchester, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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  • Chapter 1 - Awareness and identification of self
    pp 22-50
  • View abstract


    The higher-order thought (HOT) theory holds that a state's being conscious consists in one's having a suitable thought that one is, oneself, in that state. The HOT theory explains not only how we are aware of our conscious mental states, but also how it is that we are thereby aware of ourselves. This chapter shows how HOTs can accommodate essentially indexical awareness of oneself without invoking any special, antecedent self-awareness. It argues that a crucial assumption that underlies the claim of immunity to error through misidentification is unfounded, namely, the assumption that no self-identification figures in our awareness of our own conscious states. Finally, the chapter discusses the particular kind of identification of self that figures in our higher-order awareness of our conscious states and how that relates to the self-identification that underlies our first-person thoughts generally.
  • Chapter 2 - Self-representationalism and the explanatory gap
    pp 51-75
  • View abstract


    According to self-representationalism, a mental state is phenomenally conscious when it represents itself in the right way. The motivation for this view is a conception of phenomenal consciousness as involving essentially a subtle, primordial kind of self-consciousness. A consequence of this conception is that the alleged explanatory gap between phenomenal consciousness and physical properties is eo ipso an explanatory gap between self-consciousness and physical properties. This chapter first explains how self-representationalism can address this explanatory gap. It opens with a presentation of self-representationalism and the motivation for it. Then, it describes the most promising self-representational approach to the explanatory gap. This approach is threatened by an objection to self-representationalism, raised by Levine, which the author calls the "just more representation" objection. Finally, the chapter shows how the self-representationalist might approach the objection.
  • Chapter 3 - Thinking about the self
    pp 76-100
  • View abstract


    This chapter first constructs an account of self-beliefs that distinguishes them from beliefs that are merely about the person one happens to be. Next, it considers issues raised by David Rosenthal in his chapter in this book about what he calls the "essential indexicality" of Higher-Order Thoughts (HOTs). Rosenthal's account involves giving up Sydney Shoemaker's principle that a person is immune to certain sorts of errors about her own mental states, namely, whether it is she that is having them. The chapter argues that we should not give up Shoemaker's principle, and that we need not do so to account for the feature of HOTS that Rosenthal calls their "essential indexicality". These issues are crucial for those who are inclined to accept Rosenthal's account of consciousness, in which HOTS play a crucial role.
  • Chapter 4 - Ordinary self-consciousness
    pp 101-122
  • View abstract


    This chapter explores the nature of ordinary self-consciousness (OSC) and offers an analysis to identify its key components. Its main aim is to identify and look closely at the phenomenon. The chapter suggests that the phenomenon has a crucial role to play in explaining and understanding the nature of the self-conscious emotions of guilt, shame, pride and embarrassment. It distinguishes between OSC understood as a conscious mental attitude and OSC understood as a way of acting. It also helps identifying the particular character of OSC. Having tabled some ideas about the structure and dimensions involved in OSC, the chapter provides answers to questions about the relationship between OSC and self-conscious emotions. OSC is treated as a distinct self-conscious emotion, and may have a claim to being the core self-conscious emotion in relation to which the others can be better understood.
  • Chapter 5 - Waiting for the self
    pp 123-149
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    Hume offers his introspective report in a discussion of personal identity, which is traditionally regarded as a metaphysical issue. This chapter focuses on the phenomenal thesis that Hume advances in the course of addressing the metaphysical question of what it is to be a self and how a single self can endure changes over time. Philosophical thinking about self-consciousness got a major boost when Descartes formulated his cogito. In saying "I think" in the first person, and declaring that this is indubitable, Descartes implies that there is an I, which is directly accessed in consciousness. Descartes' account is a paradigm case of a non-reductive theory of the phenomenal self because it implies that the self is present in experience but not reducible to anything else. Body ownership has been intensively studied in cognitive neuroscience. The notion of ownership has been contrasted in cognitive neuroscience with the notion of authorship.
  • Chapter 6 - I think I think, therefore I am – I think
    pp 150-164
  • skeptical doubts about self-knowledge
  • View abstract


    In this chapter, the author expresses his interest in the epistemological status of Descartes' premise, that is, in how we know, or what reason we have for thinking, that we think. Thinkers have no reason, to which they have privileged access, for thinking they think. If thinkers have a reason to think they think, it is a reason their family, friends and neighbors have equal access to. Before explaining why he believes this, the author makes a few remarks on the very special kind of thought, that is, the thought that one thinks. The thought that one thinks is self-verifying, but having this self-verifying thought does not provide one with a reason to think one thinks unless one has reasons to think one has self-verifying thought. Everyone who thinks has a reason to believe what he thinks because he is acquainted with a proposition.
  • Chapter 7 - Knowing what I want
    pp 165-183
  • View abstract


    Knowing that one wants to go to the movies is an example of self-knowledge, knowledge of one's mental states. The term "privileged access" is due to Gilbert Ryle; on the Cartesian view that he is concerned to attack, "mind has a two-fold privileged access to its own doings". The distinction between privileged and peculiar access is one thing; the claim that we actually have one or both sorts of access is another. This chapter briefly reviews some evidence. One leading theory of self-knowledge classifies it as a variety of perceptual knowledge, in many respects like our perceptual knowledge of our environment. Belief, if true, offers a satisfying explanation of both privileged and peculiar access. Privileged access is explained because BEL is strongly self-verifying. According to the circularity objection, in order to follow DES, one has to have some knowledge of one's desires beforehand.
  • Chapter 8 - Self-ignorance
    pp 184-197
  • View abstract


    Philosophers tend to be impressed by human self-knowledge. Perhaps the most prominent writer on self-knowledge in contemporary philosophy is Sydney Shoemaker. From Descartes to the present, the philosophical literature on self-knowledge of consciousness and attitudes has focused, with a few exceptions, on statements of or attempted explanations of the fact that we know ourselves remarkably well. Personality trait attributions, skill attributions, and attitude attributions can all be seen as shorthand ways of talking about patterns of inward and outward action and reaction. The philosophical focus on how impressive our self-knowledge is gets the most important things backwards. Self-knowledge is pretty good about narrow and concrete matters. In a classic article, Shelley Taylor and Jonathon Brown, reviewing a broad range of literature, suggest that positive illusions about oneself are the ordinary concomitant of mental health.
  • Chapter 9 - Personhood and consciousness
    pp 198-213
  • View abstract


    The term "self" is used to refer to a person as that person conceives and knows itself. Locke's definition asserts a close connection between the nature of selves, or persons, and the access they have to themselves and their identities. The contents of self-consciousness, which includes both introspective awareness of one's current psychological states and memory awareness of one's past, are neutral with respect to the metaphysical nature of the self. There are memory demonstratives that enable one to refer to specific things remembered in the past; and these things can include persons, and these persons can include oneself. This chapter addresses the question of what gives memories their first-person content. It uses the example of the Parfit people rather than a more realistic, and more often discussed, case of fission, namely that in which it involves transplanting the two hemispheres of someone's brain into two different bodies.
  • Chapter 10 - My non-narrative, non-forensic Dasein
    pp 214-240
  • the first and second self
  • View abstract


    The Experience Principle is warranted on semantic grounds: Most every, but possibly not all, usages of words such as PERSON or SELF assume a first-personal, subjective, experiential component. To get the concept of forensic person out of the schema that mentions only psychological items and connectedness and continuity relations between the items, one needs to be looking for the items and the connection kinds that are suited primarily for our legal and moral practices. One possibility that emerges is that the way we self-express and self-represent in modern social worlds, because it depicts persons in forensic and narrative ways. It also produces the illusion that this is the way most persons always have and always will experience themselves. Thinking carefully about the ways we are all Persons and, more than a few of us also Persons, might make us skeptical that Person is the right analysis of personhood.
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